February 9, 2013

Jonathan wrote a long rant for cyclingnews. And I don’t say this often, but I think you should read it. Unlike his op-ed in the New York Times (“riders are just looking for a level playing field and wouldn’t dope if they didn’t have to”, that sort of stuff) which I didn’t like, this rant is actually clear and quite concise. I really like it and I even agree with most of it:

  • Indeed the problem is all of cycling, not Lance, or a team, or a president. It’s (nearly) everybody and everything. Either by their actions or their lack of action.
  • While I wouldn’t say it applies to every top athlete, I think there is little doubt that the selection process to get to the pro ranks of any sport favor those who want to win at all costs, and although doping is maybe not their favorite “cost” to win, it is more tempting than to the average human being (you know, the one who was weeded out of the selection process for pro sports when he skipped gym class on the second day). It doesn’t make them any better or worse, other people are tempted by other things (tax evasion, shop lifting, infidelity, whatever).
  • It doesn’t mean every athlete would cheat if they had the chance, far from it, but it does mean that relying on everybody respecting a level playing field when doping would “unlevel” it in your favor is naive.
  • Funding is a bottleneck in anti-doping and it needn’t be. Vaughters commented before that asking teams to pay more to the UCI – an organization they have issues with – is a non-starter and that this hampered anti-doping efforts. I thought this issue is easily solved (give the money for anti-doping to somebody else) and Vaughters makes the same point here. In fact where I dreamed of 18 million, he shoots for 40. Fine by me.
  • This may be the best and strongest current in cycling right now, the push to get a completely independent anti-doping process set up. Independent from the federation, and one would hope independent from the national federations which frustrate an expedient and believable resolution of any doping violation.
  • Even better, it’s not really something the teams need to wait on the UCI for. Anti-doping enforcement can be integrated into the employment relationship between team and rider. As long as every team agrees and deals with it uniformly, it can be done in a way that protects the riders too (and doesn’t favor riders of one team over another). It will take some time to implement, as I am not a fan of breaking open existing employment contracts, but we need to have the long view on this problem anyway. There are no quick fixes.

One issue not really resolved in the end is that – whether you like it or not – you have to decide what to do with the people. If everybody is to blame, what do you do? It’s too simple to say “everybody was wrong but we’ll now have independent doping monitoring so it doesn’t matter”. Maybe that works, but it works in the way East-Germany worked. Repression can only survive for so long.

To achieve more permanent change in the mind-set inside the sport, some people will have to leave. You need fresh blood (no pun intended) to tip the balance. A very simplistic bit of logic: If you have 20 teams and 15 want to cheat, the remaining five will lose out. If 15 want to play by the rules, they will be able to pressure the other five. As I’ve said many times, right now cycling claims that “everything has changed”. Everything, except the people. That is not believable or sustainable.

You could achieve this by replacing absolutely everybody. Toss out all bureaucrats, all team management, all riders, sponsors, everybody. Don’t say it can’t be done, that you need the expertise. You don’t, a sport only requires fans. The rest will follow.

Fans are not served by better race tactics or more clever governance, they are served by exciting sports. And the wisdom gathered by those in the sport isn’t necessary to properly entertain fans. Somebody dreamt up boarder-cross on a rainy afternoon and it got into the Olympics in a blink of an eye. Nobody said it couldn’t be done because they lacked experience.

There is a lot of knowledge people have in cycling, so tossing them out would mean the racing would be a lot less sophisticated and probably slower. But no less attractive to those watching, so in the end that knowledge is useless for the survival of the sport. It’s only useful in competition with for example teams run by people with similar knowledge. And that same knowledge is actually what has damaged it mostly in the past.

Now, I am not actually suggesting cycling has to go that far; it’s a solution but not necessary nor desirable. You do however need that shift in the balance, to get 15 out of 20 teams going in the right direction. So some will have to leave and be replaced by people without a history. In-breeding or nepotism are not the solutions.

Note: I speak about teams mostly as an example, the same applies to the other players in the sport.

39 Responses to “Vaughters-3”

  1. Dominic Aubut Says:

    Replacing everybody… How is that fair to the people actually in the sport who are not cheating? Is the percentage of “clean” rider so small that it would be an acceptable “damage” for the better of the sport?

    • I don’t believe I state anywhere that replacing everybody is fair (I don’t). I only make the point that even if you replace everybody, the sport will go on. The often-used claim that you need the experience of people who are now in the sport, even if they have a shady past, or the statements of confessing dopers that they still “have so much to give to the sport” is simply bogus. That’s the point.

  2. Dr Headgear Says:

    On a different tack, Vaughters claims to have implemented team policies at Garmin that actively reduce the risk of doping. As far as I know, this is largely an individual team effort, though similar policies may be in place elsewhere. Why not establish a set of policies that were auditable and verifiable that were a requirement for a UCI licence? We see bits and bobs of this, but it’s all rather murky and opaque (see the Katusha case and the privileges membership of the MPCC entails). What would be needed would be something like an ISO standard. There could even be UCI bonus points for extra optional sections of it, to encourage teams to go beyond the basic requirements. I work for a company that makes medical equipment, and everything we do has to be audited and verified according to industry standards set by regulatory bodies. Lets have an industry standard for cycling teams. By focussing on a verifiable process, rather than the people running it, we can mitigate at least some of the problem of exactly who is involved in the sport.

  3. John Says:

    All good points,but at times we think of World Tour teams in a vacuum, as if they are the NFL. Collecting large amounts of money for independent testing is a good idea, but what of all the Pro Conti and Conti teams, many filled with lower grade riders and often run by very desperate men on shoestring budgets, who are more than willing to do whatever it takes to get even an hour of TV time in a break? World Tour means these disparate groups of riders don’t race together as much as the TT1/TT2 days, but as long as there are semi-classics and Pro Conti and Conti teams with crusty old DS’s who know race organizers and get invites, independently testing the big boys will only go so far–unless the program tests all the way down to U23 and Elite Z/C.

    • Ricardo Wickert Says:

      I think John here makes a very important point. The doping culture doesn’t exist only at the very top, quite to the contrary. Cat 3’s and Masters 45+ are taking juice left and right. And if the national federations have no interest in pursuing their World Tour riders, there’s even less interest to go after the part-time, wannabe pros. Now, it’s hard to convince amateurs to pony up a significant amount of money to test themselves: those who race clean find it laughable they should pay even more for their weekend hobby, those who cheat have obviously no incentive to support the very effort that would have them caught. And it’s not like the amateur teams are losing so much visibility/credibility by doping as the larger world tour/pro conti teams, when most of the time it’s just a former racer or bike shop owner which supports the efforts of half a dozen kids racing around the state. Finally, I even find it hard to make a point to have doping be considered a police or health issue and thus be overseen by the government – can one sanely justify to taxpayers they should support additional spending to catch doping weekend warriors?

    • I think you’re giving World Tour teams too much credit, and some Pro Contis too little. Many World Tour teams are poorly organized outfits full of crusty old DSs. If they weren’t, cycling wouldn’t be in this position today. At the same time there are some very well-run, forward-thinking Pro Contis.

      And regardless, I am not thinking about them in a vacuum, the 20 teams were just an example. That said, it is where the power is, if the top level is clean, the pressure will eventually go downstream.

      Doping amongst masters and the like is a whole different ball game, definitely it’s a problem and a threat to competition at that level.

      • Ricardo Wickert Says:

        “the pressure will eventually go downstream”
        This is where I’m not so sure. In the Elite racing scene here (Germany, Austria & Switzerland), there are some amateurs known for bringing their best “performances” after having left the more controlled Conti/Pro Conti teams, where at the very least, races may be subject to doping controls (whereas the amateur scene is almost guaranteed to be a free-for-all).

        I have the same impression from racing in South America (Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina): some riders and teams preferred to remain the (doped) kings of the small ponds and simply won’t step up (to the international scene), as this would entail being subject to more stringent controls.

        But if one has to outperform those guys to progress from the lower echelons to the pro ranks, this imbalance of controls provides a dangerous incentive to the younger, upcoming riders. As much as I confer that there is indeed a (huge) problem at the top, I think ensuring a clean path from the base up is more sensible in the long run.

        • Downstream from WorldTour to ProConti since they are often in the same races. So one “camp” wouldn’t tolerate shenanigans by the other camp. The amateur scene is a whole separate story.

  4. Devil's Advocaat Says:

    A “completely independant anti-doping process” is not possible. If some one or some entity is being paid to do it, they are not going to be independent! If they’re not being paid, then the chance that they’re in it for altruism, rather than to further their own little agenda, is mighty tiny. And wherever there are employees, there is no guarantee of independence, as employees are also subject to their own inclinations and foibles which are not always those of the company, are also subject to cheating in the form of bribery or leaking information.

    Utopias are only possible in very small groups and locales, and no matter how well they work (and obviously a successful little utopia works very well indeed) they have never been, nor can ever be, translated into the larger scale. If anyone figures out a way to do it, there are much more important issues to apply it to than professional sports! But Vaughters will go on playing Emerson as long as people will give him a soapbox.

    As a fan, of sorts, I don’t find the elimination of doping to be something that will necessarily make racing more interesting. It is transparent to the fan, or at best adds an extra dimension of interest, of the exciting “Can so-and-so the non-chemist hang in to beat the other guy who is known to dope?” sort of thing. Nutrition supplements in the scale taken by athletes are, in my opinion, as much doping as some chemicals or the recycling of one’s own blood (which after all is just a form of management of the natural physical process, isn’t it?) On-board (including team vehicles) heart rate and power data for the riders during races is much more responsible for creating boredom (grand tours, at least) than any other factor.

    And for those who are so keen on a “level playing field” in cycling, let them stick to track. What is a bike race without a few hills or (preferably!) mountains?!

    • It’s funny, I was making the exactly same point in an interview this week that truly independent doesn’t exist. But you could get a hell of a lot more independent than it is now – in any sport

  5. Steeb'n O' Says:

    I’m as outside an outsider as one can be, but I know logistics. Been my thing for 24 years and a bazillion brigade-and-above deployments. If forced, I can show my math, but for now, let me cut to the chase:

    Pro cycling is perfectly sized — not too big, not too small — to pull off a Fourth of July style Declaration of Independence from the UCI. And the more I war-game / G2 it, the more I’m convinced it wouldn’t even need to be a surprise. The flash-to-bang time of all of the moving pieces is tight enough that even if they saw it coming, they couldn’t stop it.

    All it needs is an organizer and a modest underwriter.
    And the only cost would be whatever pre-payments that the top tier teams have made for the next year’s licenses.

    It is past time to say “screw you guys” to the UCI. Create a real pro union that represents the racers’ interests — and ending doping is in everyone’s long term interests. Establish a governing body that promotes teams at all levels instead of just the top tier. And create a revenue-sharing structure that helps the smaller races while leveraging broadcast rights for the biggies so the over-all pie is bigger.

    JV’s spot-on here, and he did a great job with the “why” questions, but the “how” side still needs a lot of work. Matrix Management 101 says that any layer or office that provides zero value added needs to go away. And that’s the UCI right now.

    • Daniel Says:

      ASO holds nearly all the strings, RCS Sport the rest. Do these race organizers and the pro teams’ management care about the riders? Not as a top priority, certainly not. There is no powerful riders’ union like in larger sports so what can you expect. It seems as though if the ASO wanted the UCI gone it would have already happened by now. The UCI is threatening the value of ASO’s marquee events. The Gifted Group’s proposed WCS breakaway league is still under the UCI. What power does the UCI have other than the Olympic movement? Surely that cannot be enough to matter in the end. Does anyone dispute that a better management structure would make the pro sport more marketable?

  6. Dan Says:

    I hear all the time that ‘there were clean riders too’, which is good, but they are never named for some reason. Who are/were those who are “talented enough to race at the highest level in Europe, and did walk away”? Shouldn’t these people be exalted??

    Why then are they always nameless? Was Greg LeMond clean? How about a more contemporary Tour winner – did Carlos Sastre walk away from doping? Those in the know who are certain that a rider is/was clean should say so (unless of course the real reason that you’re not naming the supposed clean riders is because they could in fact be dopers). So how about it Gerard, with all of your intimate knowledge of the sport and the cyclists themselves, surely you can share a name or two of riders who deserve our praise?

    • Matt Rose Says:

      These people are well known, if you’re willing to look. Danny Pate, Mike Creed, Adam Myerson, I would argue Gord Fraser, but Adam Myerson disagrees with me on that. The problem is is that the people who doped are the people who are, in your words, “exalted”. They’re the ones who won races, they’re the ones whose name are always in the media. To find the ones who walked away, you have to dig.

      • Dan Says:

        Sorry, but the fact that you would have to “argue” that Gord Fraser was clean shows that such claims are not much more than hunches and are disputable.

        I always believed Lance was doping (but had real no intimate knowledge as such). LeMond I think might have actually raced ‘clean’, but again, I’m not going on anything truly factual. Before Armstrong’s admission, people would’ve argued against the former belief and I know that there are more than a few who think I’m nuts for thinking the latter…

        If I knew for sure, or had 99.99% certainty (from trusted sources inside the sport) that particular riders were definitely not dopers, they would have my support (and I’m pretty sure would be fan favorites, despite, perhaps, a lack of results).

        • moskowe Says:

          David Moncoutie.
          Why do you think he was always uncomfortable riding in a peloton ? Supposedly it’s because his lack of pack-riding skills made him scared of rubbing shoulders with everyone. I think quite a bit of it would have to do with everyone silently judging him for not taking “the path.”

          He’s the proof that you could have a successful career in cycling while staying off the dope. However you’ll also notice he never moved to bigger teams than Cofidis, probably because the pressure would have been different.

          His big thing was competing in the Vuelta for the mountain’s jersey. He also won quite a few other things, despite (surprise surprise) never managing to do well on GC. Yet outside of France and Spain, where he had a little following (ironically), pretty much no-one was supporting him.

    • FaceIt Says:

      Hahaha, no one is ever mentioned because there are no clean riders in the pro peloton!

  7. Larry T. Says:

    Vaughters is headed in the right direction – only truly independent investigation of cheaters and transparent enforcement of the rules will give any chance of pro cycling improving its image – which is pretty much right there with professional “wrestling” at present, the latest scandal involving Cipollini and Fuentes just adds to the mess.

  8. Evan Shaw Says:

    Doping Diversity & Demons: reducing doping to insignificance

    1. Use of major O2 enhancers, recovery aids, and muscle strengtheners must be reduced by testing, off season as well and by monitoring.

    2. NOT all racers are alike. Some are followers, some desperate to make a living, and some are true criminals, as we have seen recently, these individuals will actually thrive in a vacuum where all who dope are seen as victims. They are callous destructive and usury. They will only be prevented by law enforcement, fines, and prison for doping.
    If the rest of the peloton sees these folks arrested they will not be tempted to go along.

    3. These true demons must be singled out from those who have sociopathic tendencies but also have a conscience and whose competitive drives if harnessed in prosocial directions will seldom if ever dope.

    4. In order for this to happen never again can the UCI the sponsors journalists and teams all align with keeping doping discoveries suppressed in order to make millions.

    5. This opens us to the larger question. Will athletes wake up and see that while they are drawn into cheating, that except for the true criminals, they are actually being exploited and used by the true criminals, those who make millions off of them and who escape all blame?

    Witness the NFL NHL NBA where injury, concussions, alcoholism, drug dependence, shortened life expectancy divorce, suicide, and domestic violence are at astronomical rates.

    JV is terrific here as he sees that there is a problem in the population of competitors that must be understood. And that there are those who seek to exploit this. However the problem is bigger than he speaks of.

  9. richie Says:

    VeloNews: One of the claims from Change Cycling Now, and we took this stance in our recent five-point plan to help save the sport, is that the anti-doping effort needs to be truly independent of the UCI. It could be some of the same UCI scientists, but a different division, to truly have that separation. What are your thoughts on this?

    Pat McQuaid: We’d love it to be truly independent. The UCI has said that for years. We’d love it to be truly independent. We’d love to have somebody running it for us. But the fact is, the rules don’t allow us. The WADA Code states, very clearly, that the international federation is responsible for anti-doping within the sport. So the rules don’t allow us to do that. Having said that, we have created, and step-by-step we are creating, that situation.

    Is mcquaid right about this? Is the wada code preventing an independent body from happening?

  10. “But no less attractive to those watching…”

    That rings about as true as saying that women’s pro cycling is just as exciting as men’s pro cycling to those watching, ergo women’s pro cycling should be funded and supported just as lucratively as the men’s side of the sport.


    • Evan Shaw Says:

      OINK! As we used to reply when someone said something horridly sexist

    • Well Joe, I don’t think anybody ever consciously paid money to watch you race, so the only reason you could become professional is by riding the coat tails of male pros who were actually interesting to watch, and who needed team mates to fill the roster.

      It amazes me how some people think it is perfectly normal for top male pros to subsidize other male pros (which they are indirectly via all sorts of rules, such as minimum wage requirements, team size requirements, etc), yet if those same top male pros would support female riders, it’s ridiculous.

      But anyway, I don’t think that was the point. Explain what it is that a team owner, manager or DS adds that makes a race more interesting to watch? Do you truly believe racing would be less exciting if we simply strip away everything around it and just give riders a course to complete?

      Please …

    • larryatcycleitalia Says:

      Mr. Papp – could you clarify this? Some women’s sports (like tennis perhaps) seem to be quite popular when funded equally (or close) to men’s sports. I wonder if having well-funded, truly professional female bike racing would be that much less interesting to watch than male? It’s never really been tried to my knowledge. And maybe eventually the races are open to all? Sure, a pure power to weight contest like major hill climbs will probably always favor men, but all courses don’t have to feature them.

      • Women cyclists are actually at their strongest relative to men in the mountains. It’s on the flat in crosswinds where they’ll really struggle. Mixed races (at a professional level) are a non-starter.

        But there’s no reason why women’s cycling couldn’t be a viable, genuinely professional sport in its own right. It works for triathlon.

        I disagree that women’s racing is inherently boring. Yes, they aren’t as fast, but I don’t think that actually matters. They’re faster than 99.9% of the audience, male and female. What matters is whether the racing is tactically exciting and unpredictable, and women’s racing is often that. Yes, the 2011 women’s Worlds RR was a snoozefest, but so was the men’s. The 2012 Worlds was probably more exciting to watch than the men.

        And it’s not like televised cycling doesn’t have plenty of dead time to fill. What would you prefer to watch – a half-hour highlights package from yesterday’s stage of the Tour de France Feminin (if such a thing existed) or half an hour of commentators blathering on about cheateaux and feed zones?

  11. Siamon Says:

    Great article Gerard, you are back on form! And thanks for the link. Seems like common sense is finally rearing its head in this crazy situation.

  12. Rp Says:

    Why can’t someone get the UCI to do the job they are paid to do?
    Are there no sponsors who can combine their support to make one voice for change?
    The will to go clean seems to be there.

  13. Paul Jakma Says:

    That it was everyone’s fault and everyone’s responsibility were points Eric Rijkaert made in his, otherwise not terribly agreeable, book “De Zaak Festina”. Written when he was released, dying from cancer, after his detention in the investigation of his role in the Festina affair, as team doctor. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  14. gfurry Says:

    Good stuff as always. I do find it interesting that you and Lance (via Twitter) both pointed to the same article. No doubt for different reasons. One to save the sport and one to deflect attention.

  15. Evan Shaw Says:

    A different way of looking at all this is for fans to care about athletes as human beings. Hard working blokes like the rest of us who had the initiative and determination to compete in a short risky and difficult career.

    If we really look at doping cheating and risk of injury, like in all sports, NFL NHL etc, athletes sometimes make big money but many do not. And all have shortened life expectancies, massive health problems, concussions, brain damage, stormy if not destructive relationships, alcoholism, drug problems and depression.

    Maybe we should get behind clean sports and better treatment of athletes lest we fall into the gladiator of Rome approach, enjoying our excitement at their expense.

  16. Soren Says:

    Vaughters is 100% right his “WE” can’t solve the problem. So instead of hiring someone to the tune of 40mil to watchdog the cheats (and believing Garmin is now clean after the crew of them spent the last 10-12 years lying through their teeth strains credibility. We fans are like the abused wife, ‘He’s sorry now, he swears he’ll never hit me again.’) we need to reinvent the sport. ASO and RCS should break from the UCI, allow only national teams and no rider over 25 years of age. No rider that has ever had a hint of scandal. No DS or management that has ever been involved in doping in any form is allowed. Clean start.

    Sure the racing might be a bit crazy, tactics might be a bit odd, but I’m pretty sure no one needs Bjarne Riis or Vaughters to figure out how to race a bike. Get rid of the lot of them. No anger, no revenge, just, “Sorry, we gotta start fresh, really fresh.” We’ll still have the Tour, we’ll still have Roubaix, the Giro, all the races that count, Alp d’Huez, Arenberg, Croce d’Aune. We’ll have new super stars in a heartbeat, to.

    We need to make sure these guys don’t dope, and maybe Vaughters plan could work, but not on the current crop. We’ll get young clean riders before they go bad, before they learn what their watts-per-kilo can be on the juice. We’ll get them clean, and keep them clean.

    Too tough on the racers of today? Sorry, more people lose jobs due to lay offs and corporate whims every day. We need a real solution and a fresh start is the only way.

  17. Daniel H Says:

    A top down change in management, a genuine commitment, and some independent governance work wonders to deliver step changes in culture in the business realm. Seems like the first logical step is removal of the UCI mgt team followed by some of the team leads (DSs, managers, what ever is atop their structures). Of course this is assuming most pro cyclists actually want clean racing but feel their environment doesn’t support this, otherwise not a lot changes in the near term.

    Change everything / everyone out? Interesting concept, would need a big gate to keep the old guard from coming over! I take the point though, the sport doesn’t NEED the old hands to survive, they are def resistant to change.

    • Daniel Says:

      I don’t see how removing all old guard riders and team support and management personnel solves the doping problem. Doctors and sports scientists are involved in doping in other sports and the effects would soon return to cycling unless there is a completely independent and well funded anti-doping organization, unaffected by any influence from UCI. That is the highest priority. It’s true that for cycling as a pro sport to continue it isn’t required to keep all of the past personnel but getting rid of them doesn’t solve the problem either.

      • Daniel H Says:

        To my point you cant get rid of them, agree. The world is too small!

        • Soren Says:

          I don’t really see why we can’t. The race organizers simply don’t allow them at events or to be involved in any capacity with a team, and yes, this includes doctors and trainers that have been tainted. As I say, clearly a serious anti-doping program is necessary, maybe similar to what Vaughters suggests, but it can’t be credible as long as the old guard remains. They have made a mockery of Anti-doping in the past.

          We can’t allow them to be involved just because we figure they will break the rules anyway and weasel in. Gotta try. If Michele, Och, Bjarne, Vaughters et al show up at your camp, in your bus, your team is out of the races. Bottom line. If these guys love cycling the way they keep saying they do, they can watch from home and stop infecting it.

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